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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Podcast with Reenie Hanlin, in Which We Talk about Art, Life, Yarn, and Pooping

Yeah, yeah—I probably should have cut that part of the audio out. But, boy, when I think of Reenie, I think of pooping, you know?

No, you don’t know. Which is why you’d better hurry up and listen to the podcast so you’ll understand. She’s a hoot. And creative as all get out.

Reenie

You will be inspired to knit. I mean, Reenie inspires ME to want to knit, and I have Knitting Phobia.

You can see more of her work here.

 Go. Enjoy Reenie. Come back later for a chance for a real treat--

It will not, I promise, involve the word “poop.”

Snort.

This Week’s Give-Away #2

I’ve got a copy of the brand-new Artists’ Cafe from Stampington.

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It’s a compilation of various articles from a wide range of issues of Somerset Studio, and it includes, among other goodies, my profiles of Lynne Perrella, Genevieve Pfeiffer, Sas Colby, and Carolyn Quartermaine.

If you’d like to have it, post a comment and check back on Friday. Be sure to check out this week’s other give-away posts, too~~

This Week’s Give-Away #1

Remember I mentioned this book last week?

book

I’ve decided it’s not for me—it’s more about work, home-schooling, spirituality. Stuff that isn’t what I’m looking for. So I’ll give it to someone else who want to check it out—if you think you’d like it, post a comment. Check the other give-away’s for this week, too—I’ll pick someone for each one on Friday—you know the drill there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Winners Are (And Y’all Thought I Forgot)

Dust Bunny, you get the little image magnets!

Deb’s Artful Journey—the framed print!

Nadine the Minx—the word magnets!

Congratulations, and thank you, all of you, for playing with us!

Send me your addresses, and everyone check back—got a new magazine, an old book, and who knows what else--

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cheering Myself Up

I’ve been sick for almost two weeks. More like a month if you count the inner ear infection and annoying dizziness. And it’s The Holidays, which I do not like and which make me sad and grouchy and Grinch-like.

Today was one of those days when you’re sick of being sick—almost well, so you’re not really sick, but you have zero energy and absolutely no desire to do anything but lie around and feel sorry for yourself.

Well, that’s a waste of time. So I thought of the most difficult project in line—of all the things I’ve been wanting to do, what’s the most demanding one?

So let’s make a jacket!

I have never made a jacket. Hell, I don’t even Really Sew.  But I have this thing—this lavender bed jacket thing from Goodwill. It’s chenille, and I cut it off and cut off the sleeves and added some cool fiber around the edges, and I wear it around the house when it’s chilly. And I love it. And so of course I wanted to make some more, right? But I know better than to take it apart and use it for a pattern—nope, not going there. I tried that once in high school and couldn’t do it and ended up ruining the piece I cut apart, so instead of having one and wanting more, I had none.

I’m a fast learner.

So when they had patterns on sale a while back, I spent some time looking through the pattern books for a bed jacket. Duh:  those have gone the way of hoop skirts and bustles. At least the latter can be found sometimes in the costume section. Bed jackets? Not a sign.

Even a good shrug pattern would have worked. But, apparently, shrugs are So Last Year.

The closest I could fine was this:

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Now, a Normal Person would have looked at that and said, “Eh. Too much trouble to even bother with.”

But me? Oh, you know what happened:  my OCD brain said, “I want it, I want it, I want it. I can make it work. Oh, yeah, baby, if we cut here, and then cut here, and then move that part over here. . . .and while we’re at it, let’s get another pattern with better sleeves. You know how Your Mother always combined patterns? You can do it, too. Come on, let’s get three!”

And on like that until I bought the two damn patterns and 12 yards of flannel and came home and ripped the flannel into 4 pieces and dyed it four different colors. And then didn’t like the colors and overdyed it weeks later. Too bad for me my helpful little brain didn’t bother actually reading the yardage requirements on the back of the pattern envelope, huh? I thought I needed 3 yards; if I had been FOLLOWING the damn pattern, I would have needed 4 1/2.

Jesus. It just gets worse.

So I’m all moping around the house this morning, hacking up chunks of my lungs, blowing my nose in a sexy, honking-goose fashion, and tossing soggy wadded-up Kleenex in the general vicinity of every trash can in the house—because I like to see if I can make jumpers with my right hand. Without, you know, the actual jumping part. Mostly while lying prone.

It makes for lots of Kleenex all over the floor in every room.

Anyway, so I got out the patterns and the flannel and laid everything out, ironed the patterns and spread them out and looked at them and thought, “Now what?” And then I got all sad because, if my mother were still alive, I’d have called her up, and she would have driven over to The Dreaded Wal-Mart in Lubbock and bought a copy of the pattern and brought it home and spread it out and called me back and walked me through it.

At this point, I should have just tossed everything out in the storage building and gone back to bed.

But no!

Turns out that I didn’t want to even TRY to combine the patterns, as one had dolman sleeves and the other had inset sleeves, and that was way, WAY above my stuffy little head.

So I wadded up the one and crammed it back in the envelope—and don’t you just wonder who thought of that complicated system of folding those fragile tissue paper patterns to go into those fragile, too-small envelopes? My mother’s patterns were always perfectly folded back exactly the way they came out of the envelope and gently inserted back just the way god meant them to be.

Not at this house.

OK. So I have this Vision:  I want two layers of flannel, and I want the seams on the outside, so they’ll both show and will ravel. I want the jacket to be waist length, no longer. I want the sleeves to be just below my elbows. I want it shaped like a swing coat, with a little flare. I do not want to dick around with any stinkin’ pockets today, thank you very much.

Here ensued much grumbling and cussing and gnashing of teeth.

But. But! After many hours of slogging, I finished it! It worked! I frayed it and washed it and dried it and then spent half an hour shaving it with a clothes shaver to get off the lint, and now it’s ready for me to stitch, if I want to. And I think I do:  if I’d hated it, I would have taken it to Goodwill with the next load of stuff. If I’d liked it OK, I would have worn it as it is. But I think I really like it a lot. I’d have a photo of me wearing it, but The EGE is cooking dinner, and I’m not going to bother him and ask him to take a photo because I haven’t been the most charming of spouses today. Whiny and cussy, not to mention snotty and hacky. Like the Four Fucked-Up Dwarves, huh?

Anyway, so here it is:

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One of y’all will be so kind as to tell me what you call these seams, where you sew the seam and then press it open and stitch down each side, to make it lie open.

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I don’t think it’s flat felled, as I think those are turned under, like on the inside seam of Levi’s. But what do I know? Anyway, that’s what I did to the seams, and then I clipped them all to fray them (do not try this at home if you have Gnarly Fingers—about halfway through, I was ready to smack myself for even thinking about it)

But it’s done. And I feel marginally cheerier (esp. since I made myself laugh out loud thinking of the Four Fucked-Up Dwarves (see? I’m laughing again)). So I’d call it a success.

Except: my OCD brain is going, “See? That wasn’t hard. I told you it wouldn’t be. Now we need one in purple and green. And what about corduroy? That would be cool—you could line in in flannel, too. And what about some appliqué? And you really need some pockets on that—you could stitch them on now, you know; it’s not too late. And what about piping? Some fringe would be cool. Maybe one of those really big snaps . . . .”

It’s trying to kill me.

 

Advanced Style

I don’t spend a lot of time surfing around online because—gahhh—who has the time? But this morning I got sucked into Ari Seth Cohen’s blog of fashion for People Of a Certain Age. It just makes me happy to know there are others out there wearing what makes them happy, never mind what retailers would like them all to wear (dark polyester slacks, blouses, sensible shoes).

Take a look.

[Thanks to Peggy Hallman for sharing this one!]

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reading List: Voluntary Simplicity

And then, of course, I realized I need to provide you with some titles. These are the simple living books I have in my library. There are others out there—lots of others. One good thing about these is that they’re not new, and so you can pick up used copies for very little. I’ve provided amazon.com links in the titles so you can check them out.

1

Living the Simple Life, by Elaine St. James

3

Simplify Your Life, Elaine St. James

2

Inner Simplicity, Elaine St. James

4

Simplify Your Christmas, Elaine St. James

5

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson

6

Live What You Love—notes from an unusual life, Bob and Melinda Blanchard

7

Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin

8

The Circle of Simplicity, Cecile Andrews

These, above, are all available used from amazon.com for $.01 each, plus shipping. Yes, that’s a penny each—about $4 with shipping.

9

Your Money or Your Life, Joe Domingues and Vicki Robin

and the one I’m reading now:

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Choosing Simplicity, by Linda Breen Pierce.

That should give you a place to start. Check your library first. Try Bookmooch. Then try buying used. It’s the simpler way to shop--

 

So Let’s Get You Organized, Part V: Prioritizing

This should be easy, right? You make your to-do list, and you do the important stuff first, and then, later, you get to do the fun stuff. Right?

Wrong. Remember what Pam RuBert told you in my book:  if you do all the work stuff first, you won’t have any Creative Brain left for the fun stuff because it will be all tired out.

So, instead, you’ve got to figure out the categories of things you have on your day’s to-do list:

--things that have to be done (getting the kids to school, going to the office, keeping medical appointments and meetings)

--stuff that needs to be done (returning important phone calls, buying groceries, going to your daughter’s soccer game)

--stuff you think you have to do but really don’t (making the bed [who cares?], cooking dinner [see below], going to the post office {you can do all your post office business online])

--stuff you’d like to do (read the newspaper, take a nap, wash the dog)

--stuff you dream of finding time for (reading, making art, sewing, watching a movie, going on a date with your partner).

OK. Also in the book I told you The Hard Truth:  you can’t do everything. You can’t have everything. You can’t keep up with all the latest “news” and technology and gossip and movies and pop culture and music. You can’t. You can try, but you’ll make yourself crazy.

So you have to figure out what’s important to you. You, not anyone else.

The same goes with the stuff you do every day. If it’s vital to you to have a hot three-course meal every evening, and if you live alone and there’s no one who can take turns fixing it, then this is going to be one of your Important Stuff list. But if you’re like me and don’t really give a rat’s ass about Nice Meals but are happy as long as the food is 1) good (not old, not icky) and 2) nutritious, then I urge you to figure out a way to cook one day a week and eat combinations of whatever you cook for the rest of the week. On Mondays, we steam vegetables, cook tofu, and make rice. We eat that 4-5 days a week. Two days a week The EGE goes and buys bean and cheese nachos, and one day a week he may buy a veggie burger. But dinner is not a time-consuming thing. I mix the vegetables and rice and tofu together in a plastic container with a lid, heat it up, eat what I want, put the rest in the refrigerator until the next night. There are always grapes in a bowl and sliced cheese in the frig, and this is what I eat. I will eat this every night for the rest of my life if it means I don’t ever have to think about preparing a meal.

[Here I have to add that I no longer prepare meals anyway:  The EGE has taken over that job, and I thank him heartily. I think if it were left up to me, we’d be eating Cheerios twice a day. I’m that lazy about food.]

Think about this in relation to: making the bed, vacuuming, dusting, ironing.

Here. Check out these books on simple living by Elaine St. James. I have a bunch of them, and I read them all once a year. In fact, it’s time to get them out again. I have the Christmas one, which reminds me that the over-the-top commercialism that rules here in Midland isn’t the only way to celebrate the season, if you’re someone who celebrates.

Reading books on simple living is a good thing because it makes you stop and think about your expectations for things like a spotless house, elaborate meals, constant shopping and going and doing.

OK, so once you’ve thought about that, go back to prioritizing and what Pam said. Put the most important, has-to-be-done thing first. Then, next, do NOT put the next most vital thing. Put something fun. Something that won’t take too much time but that will be fun for you.

So if #1 is Finish the Proposal for the Meeting, then #2 might be “draw for 10 minutes.” #3 might be “edit manuscript” and then #4 might be “fix a cup of tea and read a magazine”

The best way to make sure you do the tough stuff is to reward yourself by making sure you put the fun stuff in there so you know you’ll get to it—if all the fun stuff is at the end and you have to slog through a whole day’s worth of Tough Stuff, well. Where’s the motivation in that, huh? Alternate—a Tough Job, something fun, another Tough Job, something else fun. If you work in an office, you’ll have to schedule the fun stuff for coffee breaks and lunch, but it beats sitting at your desk eating candy bars and drinking a diet soda.

OK. I have more to say along these lines, but I want to get this out there to you, so I’ll talk more about it later.

Unless I forget.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So Let’s Get You Organized, Part IV: The To-Do List & Why It’s Your Friend

So a couple of y’all told me the reason you don’t do to-do lists is because you lose them, or you forget them, or you never look at them.

And I was like, “You’re supposed to go back and look at them?” Because, well: I never do. Never. After I finish writing it up in the morning, I don’t look at it until the next morning, when I go in and cross off what I got done and move over what I didn’t get done.

The purpose of the to-do list, at least for me, is in the writing of it.

So we started this week talking about how your brain works, right? And once you know about that, you can figure out what kind of to-do list is going to work for you. Maybe you do need one you’ll go back to through-out the day. Maybe your brain likes to look at things over and over. For me, it’s the act of writing that enables me to put things in my brain. Now, they may not stay there for long, but they’re there, and with them in my head, I can see the shape the day needs to take to get them all done. Since I do the heavy lifting in the morning, I can see what has to be done and know what’s going to take the most concentration and do those jobs first, while everything’s still fresh.

And while the one cup of caffeinated coffee has kicked in and is still working. Yeah, buddy.

For you, though, a to-do list may need to be different. Perhaps you put things in your head visually. You might work better if you made little drawings, simple sketches of things you need to do, like Pam RuBert—remember, she talks about this in the book?

Maybe you hold onto things better when you hear them. So you might want to get a little digital recorder (or use an app on your phone) and record your to-do list.

See? You figure out how your brain works, and then you work with it.  But the reason you need a to-do list:  To organize your day, you need to know what needs to get done that day. What do you need to accomplish? Give that information to your brain in whatever way it likes to receive information.

Then prioritize:  put the important stuff first (Wake up. Drive to the office. Be nice to the boss—that stuff would go first, right?) and then arrange the rest of it in whatever order works for you.

I really do think, though, that getting in the habit of making a daily to-do list, in whatever format is most pleasing to your particular brain, is going to be a big help in organizing your day. Give it a try—every day for a month—and see how it goes, OK?

Fabulous Book Art

This video from the New Zealand Book Council, sent to me by Sharon (thanks, Sharon!) from Diana Trout’s blog, [whew—hope I didn’t accidentally leave anyone out] is so cool I tracked it down on youtube so you could see it here. Check this out:

Thanksgiving Give-Away from Artsyville

I told y’all to check back for a special give-away to go with Aimee’s podcast interview, and here it is:

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Actually, there’ll be three winners. One will win the framed Doodle Print,

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one will win the word magnets,

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and one will win the image magnets.

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Aren’t these just the ginchiest? (The image magnets are brand new in Aimee’s shop.)

So what you’ll do:  post a comment telling us what you like best about Artsyville. And tell us which one of these little gifts you’d like to have. Yes, you CAN enter for all three:  then you’ll leave three separate comments, with three different things you love about visiting Artsyville. It can be a favorite post, or a photograph you loved, or a particular doodle print. It can be a theme—your favorite kind of posts you find there. Or it can be a note about something Aimee posted that inspired you to do _______.

You get the idea.

Since I got a late start on this, I’ll let it go until Sunday. I’ll pick three winners then. You’ll check back, because—again—you don’t want to risk the wrath of The Irritated Cat.

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Podcasting Artsyville

Today I got to spend a delightful little while talking to Aimee Meyers Dolich of Artsyville. We actually got to meet in person last spring in Austin, and she’s every bit as lovely as you imagine she is. Plus she’s a hoot. We did control ourselves and refrain from profanity, but you’ll still enjoy the conversation anyway.

[Or you can subscribe to Notes from the Voodoo Lounge via iTunes.]

To celebrate the podcast, I’m posting a special give-away tomorrow, so check back~~

So Let’s Get You Organized, Part III: How Do You Spend Your Time?

Today we’re going to do one of the most important things you can to do when you’re trying to get organized. We’re going to figure out how you spend your time right now.

Yeah, yeah, I know you don’t like this part. You’ve tried it before, and it’s no fun. I know this is the part where I’m going to lose a lot of y’all. I can hear you grumbling and clicking away from The Voodoo Cafe as fast as you can. But wait, please:  hear me out. And don’t take it just from m;, listen to what Pam RuBert says:

"It's hard to plan how you're going to spend your time if you aren't really honest/don't know how you TEND to spend your time."

In order to figure out how to get yourself organized, you’re going to have to take The Hard Look at how you’re not organized. Sure, you think you know how you’re spending your time, but do you? Really? If I were to ask you how you spend the first hour of every morning, you’d probably tell me you got up, showered, ate breakfast, washed the dishes, got dressed, and left the house. But would you count the ten minutes you spend staring into the magnifying make-up mirror over the sink, picking at your pores and wondering what in the hell is up with your eyebrows? Or what about the five minutes you spent standing in the middle of the living room in your underwear, remote control in hand, clicking through the channels trying to find out whether it’s supposed to rain this afternoon? Would you mention those?

No. You would not. Because you’re not even aware of those 15 minutes. Those minutes are just like the “and, uh” things we stick in our conversation. We don’t notice them because they’re not on our radar. And we won’t notice them unless we’re forced to.

[I notice them because that’s just what I do. And also because I spend a lot of time listening to recordings of myself and wondering why it sounds like I have a stutter.]

So here’s what you’ve got to do: you’re going to follow Roz Stendahl’s advice (remember, you listened to her here) and keep a record of exactly how you spend your time. I want you to do this for the rest of the week, and I do not want you to whine about it.

Oh, OK:  you can whine! You can come here and whine to us. I’ll listen, and I’ll sympathize. But I want you to DO it. OK?

You’re going to make a chart of your days, from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you fall asleep at night, and you’re going to record what you’re doing in 15-minute intervals, just like Roz recommends. And because you may do several things in any 15-minute segment, you’re going to give yourself plenty of room. I suggest going to the store and buying some big, cheap-ass pad—some drawing pad for kids, maybe—and giving yourself a page for each 4-hour segment, maybe:  just something so you have plenty of room to write “Ate a candy bar, picked my teeth, checked Twitter, sent an e-mail to my sister-in-law about the turkey, stared out the window.”

That sounds tedious, and maybe you think it’s silly. But I promise you this:  if you see several 15-minute segments like that in your days at the end of the week, and you add them up, and you realize that you’ve got two or three hours worth of gazing into space and eating snack food, you’re going to realize that you’ve got time you didn’t ever think about, time you could use to start your novel, or practice drawing. Knit a sweater. Mix pigment. Two to three hours a week is a TON of time when you think you don’t have any.

So. Grumble and whine if you have to, but if you’re serious about getting yourself organized and finding more time in your life, you’ve got to do this.

You know, it might be more fun if you used colored markers or crayons.

Or not. Whatever:  Just do it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scout and Jem

I love Artful Blogging.

Yeah, I hear you. I’m not much for frou-frou blogs, either. But I love the articles about how blogging has changed people’s lives, and every once in a while I’ll find a blog I just really love. Like Scout and Jem. Check it out—be sure to read this post. I haven’t gotten to read much yet, but I’m loving it so far.

Now if I just had some reading time. . . .

OK, So Let’s Get You Organized, Part II: Learning How Your Mind Works

I had something else I was going to talk about for Part II, but Deborah’s comment/question made me realize that this is something most people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. Maybe it’s just me and Roz, you know?

Do you know how your mind works? Do you know what it likes and doesn’t like? How it likes to receive information? The things that intrigue it and pull it in, and the things that send it veering off in another direction?

Don’t know exactly what I’m talking about? Since I’m not a Brain Scientist—I don’t even play one on tv—I’ll have to use examples of my own brain. I haven’t always paid attention to these things, but once I realized that I am not my brain, that my brain functions separately from my will, my desires, my more amorphous, touchy-feely-ish self, I realized that figuring out how my brain works and catering to it as much as possible will make life smoother and allow me to accomplish sooo much more.

For instance:  because I think mostly in words, my brain doesn’t like to have words coming in while its working. What do I mean?

Do you know hypnagogic images? This isn’t the best explanation, but you can google from there and find out more if you’re interested. Basically, it’s imagery that occurs during the moments between sleep and wakefulness. More vivid than thoughts OR dreams, in my case. I have these all the time and can have them during meditation, when I feel fully awake but seem to be watching a movie inside my head. They’re endlessly fascinating to me, as they seem completely separate from me—the people in them aren’t people I know, the images aren’t things I remember seeing, the story line seems to be coming from somewhere else. You can see where people get the idea that they’re channeling something else or have had an out-of-body experience. It’s none of these, of course—just another example of the amazing things that go on in our brains all the time. The brain is absolutely amazing, and we have little clue about most of it. The more of it we can tap into, the more amazed we are.

The point:  these hypnagogic images often come with a script scrolling across the bottom, where I see words as they’re being typed. My brain thinks in words, often actual visual words.

So when I’m working, I can’t have words coming in. No talking, no tv or talk radio (god forbid!), no music with lyrics. It’s why I like to walk by myself—someone else’s chattering can chase away a nascent idea more quickly than anything. I refer to it as the words coming in getting tangled up with the words my brain is producing, ending up in a big, tangled mess of random words.

Now, if your brain thinks in images, words might not bother you, but you might need, instead, to limit visual input during certain parts of thinking. You might need to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. You might need to shut your eyes. You might need to do single-pointed meditation, where you gaze (with soft gaze) at a candle or simple object. Start here to find out more about soft gaze.

So that’s one thing. Another thing is: my brain likes to be busy. If it doesn’t have anything to think about, it worries. When I wake up in the morning, my brain starts going. Left alone, it will obsess about everything from periodontal disease to termite infestation (I’m not making up random examples here, either—my mother told tales of having had surgery for gum disease, and she worried about a recurrence of termites all the time—I learned my worrying topics AND style from my mother).

But! If I have some project underway, something intriguing and exciting and challenging, my brain will latch onto that first thing in the morning. The more problems there are to solve, the happier it is. It’s one of the reasons I don’t repeat things (well, except PAJAMA PANTS):  once I’ve figured out the challenges and mastered whatever-it-is, it’s of no use to me any more. Of course, sometimes I have to make a dozen before I decide it’s all figured out and perfect, but then? Eh.

Maybe your brain likes things to be spacious and empty, without a lot of puzzles. Maybe your brain functions best when input is kept to a minimum. Or maybe when you toss in lots of noise and colors and odors. Only you can figure this stuff out.

What does your brain notice? Patterns? Sounds? Colors?

My brain likes to plan things by looking at lists and grids, but it likes to brainstorm by looking at words arranged in the traditional brain-storming mind mapping style of circling a word and drawing a line to another circled word. So it likes things lined up and rigid when it’s planning, but loose and floaty when it’s trying to get new ideas. Very left vs. right, at least in this area.

My brain loves color—always. But it also loves odors, something I don’t much care for. I can remember odors of things I’ve long since forgotten:  the odor of parafinned ducks, for example. My brain notices how there’s a shared olfactory element in packaged taco seasoning and funky male body odor. There’s another shared element in popcorn and cat doot. Which may explain why I don’t eat a lot of popcorn, right?

When I walk in the evening, my brain loves trying to figure out what people are cooking for dinner. I myself couldn’t care less, since those odors are almost always meat odors, but the puzzle of deciphering olfactory clues makes my brain happy. It adores this. One of its happiest memories are the two times it was able to tell a couple of colleagues were having an affair just from the way the parties smelled. It loves this stuff. And a happy brain isn’t telling me about financial ruin, mortality, crippling arthritis. You know. So I let it play with odors and their associations. Cat doot and sex seem to provide a nice diversion for it, so who am I to quibble?

Starbucks has this kit that has tiny bottles of odors of things—they use this sometimes in coffee pairings. My brain loves this—the puzzle of figuring it out, the fun of pairings and matchings. It longs for the scent machine in Harold and Maude. Remember that? On my own, I would avoid odors because so many of the manufactured ones give me a headache or make me sneeze. But I give them to my brain sometimes—I’ll go and smell candles in a store, sometimes, just to let it see if it can figure out the individual components. Or sniff spices with my eyes closed.

Maybe all this talk about me and my brain is baffling to you. Maybe you are certain that you and your brain are the same. I am just as certain that we are not. I am certain of this because my brain so often puzzles me, or surprises me or delights me. It’s like a fraternal twin:  someone who’s been with me my whole life but is enough unlike me to always be a little surprising.

I think of it as a daemon. You can start to find out more here. I first began to think of it this way when I read Stephen Pinker’s How the Mind Works, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

1

(And oh, my:  you can get a used copy for only $1.95.

What does your brain notice? Mine pays little attention to faces—I fail to recognize almost everyone. But I can recognize handwriting, and I can recognize body shapes and movement. So while I might not be able to remember someone from talking to them face to face, I might be able to know who they are if I see them walking away from me. I’ve told the story of recognizing one of our nephews in the store just from seeing the back of his calves as he stood in line at the check-out counter. I do not know why this is—I don’t study body parts. But there it is:  one of the way my brain notices things seems to be: shapes in motion. That somehow triggers something. So if I were working on a project, I might need to have all the pieces in front of me and then move them around in different configurations. See? This is where you can go with this.

OK. So those are some things to start you on the path to figuring out how your brain works. Pay attention this week. Take some notes, as if you’re Jane Goodall observing a particularly fascinating gorilla. In Part III, I’ll talk about. . . oh, who the hell knows what I’ll talk about? It’ll be something, though—I seem to have plenty to say about this.

And isn’t that a surprise?

 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

OK, So Let’s Get You Organized, Part I: How to Keep Track of Things You Need to Do

I keep hearing more and more and more about how people want to get organized, they need to get organized, they’d have time for being creative and making art and writing if only they could Get Themselves Organized. So I, in my infinite wisdom and complete organizational fabulousness, am here to help.

Snort.

Hee. I am, seriously, laughing out loud here. Cos you know the reason this is a topic I adore is: it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about pretty much my whole adult life, trying to figure out how to get myself Perfectly Organized so everything about my day will flow smoothly.

It’s something we all want, and it’s one of those things, like Diet Advice, off of which enterprising marketers (read: snake oil salesmen) make a TON of money.

OK, so I don’t have all the answers. Hell, I may not have ANY answers. But I also am not going to charge you any money, so what’s to lose?

The first thing you’re going to have to do is exactly what Roz Stendahl said you need to do when I talked to her, here. Remember? She said you have to know how your brain works. And that’s exactly right:  it’s impossible to figure out an organizational system if you don’t know how your brain thinks about things.

Do you need to be able to see  a day at a glance, in chronological order? Or do you need a list, down a page? Or do you need to see a whole week, or a month, or a year? Do you need a white board with a chart?

Do you do best when you have a big calendar grid in front of you? Or a To-Do list for each individual day? How does your brain like to have information presented?

What I need:  I need to be able to see a month at a glance, on one page. And I need a list for each day.

[Hell:  I need someone to follow me around with a clipboard, reminding me from moment to moment why exactly I came into this room carrying a roll of paper towels and hat.]

For that reason, I have calendar pages posted in various places around the house.

There’s this one on the refrigerator that The EGE and I can use for things we both need to know—like when the meter reader comes (we have to be here to unlock the door so he can get into the back yard), or when school’s out—stuff like that.

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There are these calendar pages taped to the bathroom door that we use for keeping track of our weight, because we’re people who do that.

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(I keep track of the days when I drop below 125, since I tend to get sick when that happens. Which is what has happened now. Duh. But at least I know this, right?)

Then there’s the main calendar I use for everything I need to keep track of:

Yes, I know it would be fun to read all this. I would LOVE to be able to read other people’s calendars. Alas, mine has names of people in it. Hence the blurriness. Sorry.

And the Moleskine Page-a-Day I use for To-Do lists:

Now, for next year, I’m consolidating these:  I spent The Big Bucks on this:

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a leather page-a-day

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that also has a section with each month at a glance.

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I want to have everything in one book that I can carry with me. Forking out the money to have it in orange leather is going to guarantee that I use it every day. You betcha.

What I do is to sit in bed in the morning with coffee and go through these. I check to see what I need to do that day, and then I go over the previous day’s to-do list and cross off what I got done and move the rest to the current day. And then I add whatever I need to do that day.

The things that are vital—appointments, interviews, things with a specific time—those are put onto iCal, the calendar shared by the MacBook and iPhone. I set email alarms for two days before and the day before. I get email on the phone, the laptop, and my desktop PC, so, in reality, I get 6 email notices for every appointment, even though I actually read my email only at the PC.

I’ve got some duplicates there and have to work on getting that straightened out—still haven’t gotten the MobileMe and manual sync figured out entirely and am getting duplicates of stuff.

If something comes up—say I’m out somewhere and agree to meet someone the next day at noon (not something I’m likely to do, since I work during the day and don’t make appointments until after 4 pm, but let’s just say), I can use reQuall, with the voice recorder app on the iPhone, and it will email me a transcript.

I short, I realize that I have a lousy memory—I should realize this, as I’ve had it all my life, and it’s only getting worse—and have figured out ways to get around it. I like getting reminders by email—I check email many times a day, and this is the best way for me to be reminded of things. I’ve found the applications that will remind me that way, and I use them.

If you need some other form of reminder, you need to figure out what it is and then arrange to get it. If you need a visual reminder, perhaps you can do this:  whenever you make an appointment, at that very moment, write a reminder on a sticky note (either real or virtual on your desktop) and take it and stick it where you know you’ll see it:  your monitor, your briefcase, your bathroom mirror. Whatever you do, it has to be something that works for the way your brain likes to receive information.

Even if you’re young, you have a fabulous memory, you think you can trust your memory—if you find yourself double-booking, or realizing something starts an hour later than you thought it did, or whatever:  if you find that your once-perfect memory is overwhelmed by too much to do, too many people’s schedules to mesh, whatever:  do your brain a favor and don’t expect it to remember everything. The creative brain has other things to do besides keeping track of appointments and meetings. Figure out a way to remember those that works for you and give your brain room to do something more fun. Keeping track of meetings isn’t the sort of thing your brain was meant to do.

OK. It’s a place to get started, right? Think about it, make some notes. Next time we’re going to talk about organizing your day:  how to figure out when to do what. In the meantime, be thinking about the way Your Own Personal Brain likes to work with information.

 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hey, Nona!

It’s past Friday, I haven’t heard from you, your blogger profile is private so I can’t try to get in touch. I know several people named “Nona,” so no clue there. Hello?

Cat

Friday, November 20, 2009

And The Winner Is~~

Man, this was tough. I read all y’all’s comments—TWICE. I went through and made a list of the ones I thought really need this book, but that didn’t help, because everybody Needs it. Whew. Y’all made me work.

Finally, though, I picked Nona as the winner. So, Nona, send me your address.

And I decided I’ll have to do another give-away of another copy of the book here soon. It won’t be next week, because I’ve got something else cool lined up for then. Well, hell—I’ve got several cool things lined up. But keep checking back (you’re going to be hanging out here with me anyway, right?), because there’ll be another book give-away soon.

And I realized what kind of suggestions I need to offer—ideas and tips and things for all you really busy people, and then other tips and ideas for those who have time but just can’t pull themselves up out of the chair in front of the computer. So I’m going to be working on those. If you’re doing Facebook or Twitter, you can hook up with me there—I try to offer little bits throughout the day. You can find the links over there on the right.

So. Thanks a bunch for the comments—the things you tell me give me ideas, and I think of ways I can maybe offer some support. I have no idea what it would be like to have a full-time job and kids and a partner who maybe wasn’t the most supportive person in the world and then an extended family who made demands and aieeeeeee! But I know what it’s like to be really busy.

Anyway, I’m going to try to put together a post about organizing—some of the things I do to organize my time. With photos, I hope!

In the meantime: Congratulations, Nona! And thanks again to everyone who came by and left a comment—y’all are fabulous!

XO

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Desire & Determination

You’ll remember when I talked to Tom Braxton, who’s spent years in both teaching and music, and he explained that there’s desire, and then there’s determination. This distinction seems so important to me that I wanted to talk about it some more as it applies to creativity, goals, dreams, etc.

Desire, as Tom said, is the easy part. You want to be a musician. You want to be an artist. You can imagine the work you would do and the life you would lead, the happy hours on stage or in the studio. You imagine what it would be like to see your work in a gallery, to learn how to carve, to be so proficient at your craft that you’d be asked to write a book about it.

You dream about, oh, let’s say it’s painting for you. You dream about painting. You have books about painting. You go to exhibits of paintings and spend hours online looking at flickr sites that have photos of paintings.

And, sure, you paint. Whenever you have the time, you pull out the paints and work at it. You take a class whenever you can work one in, and you can see some improvement in what you’re doing.

Mostly, though, you dream. You dream, and you wish, and you desire.

Maybe you’re one of those people who believes, as many people do, in the power of Putting It Out There in The Universe—letting that vast, amorphous, sort of ethereal presence out there know that, gee, you reallyreallyreally want to Be A Painter. There are many, many people who believe this will work:  that you’ll let it be known that this is what you want, what you desire, and The Universe will set it all in motion for you.

Perhaps you let The Universe know that, gee, it would be really helpful if you had more time, and if someone else would clean the cat boxes and fix dinner, and if you might, maybe, win the lottery and have a studio built in the backyard.

Skylights and surround sound would help.

You have the desire, all right. You want to be a painter, you love painting, you try to make time to paint. All you need is a little help.

From The Universe.

What you don’t have, alas, is determination. What exactly is determination? It’s what keeps you forging ahead toward your desire, no matter what. Determination is what pulls you out of bed at 5 am so you can paint for an hour before you leave for work. Determination is what propels you out into the worst snowstorm on record in your little town so that you can attend the lecture about plein air painting being offered—for free!--at the college. Determination is why you give up your regular afternoon venti triple-ristretto caramel mocha frappaccino so you can save enough to take that workshop in the spring. (You’ll probably save enough for new brushes, too. Maybe a bigger house.)

Determination is what:

--keeps you from spending 3 hours every evening on the computer, surfing, chatting, IM-ing, checking up on the latest gossip.

--gets you into the studio even when you’re dog tired and don’t want to do anything but pour a glass of wine and check TiVo.

--makes you send out those slides even when your sister-in-law has ever-so-gently suggested that your last painting, the one you shyly showed her but now wished you’d cut off your right leg instead, looks exactly like what her kid, your holy terror nephew Ralph, did last week in kindergarten.

Determination is a lot like discipline, except that determination has as its root “determine,” which means “to fix authoritatively or conclusively.” Which means, in case that’s way too many words to think about right now, that determination is what sets the outcome of something. With “desire,” there is no end in sight. Nothing is guaranteed.

With “determination,” you’re determining what is going to happen.

Now. Does this mean that if you’re determined to Be A Painter, you will automatically become a famous and respected, very highly paid painter? Will you become, god help you, Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, and reap the rewards of unlimited marketing?

No. All it means is that determination will make you A Painter. You will paint. If you want to be a good painter, you’ll have to be determined to do that, as well.

Now don’t you DARE get all silly on me here and ask, “So, Ricë, does that mean that if I’m determined to fly, I’ll sprout wings? Snort.”

No. But if you’re determined to fly, you’re going to find a way, even if it means that you’re going to climb up on some cliff at some ungodly predawn hour and let your nephew strap you into a hang gliding harness and quickquick shove you off into space. What determination will do for you is help you find a way to get where you want to go.

Dreaming will tell you where you want to go.

Desire will ensure you want to get there.

Determination is the thing that drags you along the path, no matter that it’s sometimes rough and muddy and sometimes you just want to sleep in:  if you’re determined to do it, you’re going to do it or die trying.

Because here’s the deal:  some day you are going to die. It might be sudden, but it probably won’t be. You’ll probably have a while to look back over your life, kind of check up on what you’ve done, what you wish you’d done, what you remember most happily. What you do not want, in those peaceful days of lying in bed, surrounded by your loving family, is to be going, “Goddamnit! Why in the hell didn’t I paint more? And what are all you people doing in my bedroom?”

So think about it. Are you content to dream your life away, wishing for good things to come your way, via the generosity of The Universe? If so, great! You’re excused—you can go get that glass of Chablis and park your butt on the sofa.

But if you don’t want to be the one lying there when you’re 98, snapping at the great-great-grandchildren about how they’d better not waste their lives the way you did, then it’s time to sit down with a notebook and a pen and figure out how you’re going to determine your future. If you’re determined to paint, you will paint. And if you’re determined to get good at it, well—what are you doing still sitting here? Get up! Get busy! It’s never too early to start, and it’s never too late to get your butt in gear.

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So What’s on YOUR Bedside Table?

I am so, so sorry for not bringing more to entertain y’all this week. I have lists of things I want to tell you, but, man! It is crazy busy here in front of this computer. I worked 12 hours yesterday and was up and at it again early this morning.

Anyway. So while I was sitting in bed making the daily to-do list (which just keeps on having most of its stuff moved on to the next day—the list is WAY longer than the days I have to whittle away at it), I noticed all this crap on the table beside the bed. Once upon a time, I had a nice little table, small and tidy, with a clock and a box of tissue. You know? Maybe a pen. A coaster for a cup of coffee. But that’s it! i swear:  it used to be A Tidy Place. Kind of like the inside of the mind of someone who gets all their “news” from talk radio and thinks of themselves as A Dittohead and so doesn’t really have a lot cluttering up space in there.

Anyway! Grrrrrr:  stick to the topic, damnit.

And the topic is:  stuff on my bedside table. Which is now a full-sized table, a round one that normal people would use for meals. Me? Oh, no:  it just barely holds all the crap I seem to believe I cannot live without WHILE I AM SLEEPING.

Good grief.

Check it out:

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It’s one of the pieces of furniture that my parents refinished. It was white. Now, of course, it is orange. But you knew that already.

That lovely lamp is one my mother bought and intended to sell—she didn’t ever do that, but apparently she’d gotten some amazing deal and couldn’t resist but didn’t really like the lamps (there are two) and didn’t want them. I talked her out of them long ago—for some reason, I adore them. So totally unlike anything else I own, but there you go. I’m nothing if not inconsistent.

Snort.

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OK, so here it is:

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On the left, in the back, are the mugs with pens, pencils, highlighters, tons of bookmarks (some are things people have made, the edge of an envelope from my friend Karen, who used a ton of old stamps all along the edge—stuff like that that I love to find waiting for me in a book). Hanging behind them is the pair of Bose headphones I use with the iPhone when it’s on this charger dock with fabulous speakers.

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Of course, the speakers and the headphones don’t work together, but never mind that—I use either one or the other or turn off the speakers and use it just as a charging dock. The speakers work really well, by the way. They are NOT Bose. I’m not enough of an audiophile to spend THAT kind of money.

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Then one of the stacks of books, next to a little box I painted and stamped and colored many years ago when Rubber Stamping Was My Life. A carved Buddha on top of a cedar box with a little inlaid ivory elephant my father brought back to me from some trip in the 1960’s. An ancient green Japanese mug from an antique store in Fredericksburg, filled with felt tip pens:

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Then it gets scary:  the planning stuff all stacked precariously on the edge of the table. I spend an hour or so with this stuff in the morning before I even LOOK at the computer, figuring out what needs to get done that day. On the floor, down there in the right-hand corner, you can see more Current Books.

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You want to know what’s scariest about all this? I took these photos AFTER I cleaned this baby off, wiped the surface with a damp cloth (my version of “dusting”) and got rid of some stuff.

Yeah.

OK. So what’s on yours? Show us photos! We LOVE snooping around your bedroom.

(Well, OK, some of us do. Some of us just love snooping, period. Not that I’m implicating any of the rest of y’all or anything.)

I’d love to stay and visit all afternoon, but here’s the deal: I’m trying to eat breakfast while I’m typing this, but it’s not working. The Cheerios keep ending up in my lap and down the front of my t-shirt, and it’s almost 1 pm (because I was sitting out here working on the proposal for the next book and thought, “Huh, it must be about 10, and so I should stop and eat breakfast,” and looked up and said, “What the fuck?” because it was already after NOON. I think my studio is in some sort of time warp, and I’m going to have to go back and read my own book and see if any of the artists mentioned that little nugget and somehow I missed it, because there’s definitely something weird going on with the hours out here. Something is sucking them up like a big vacuum cleaner, and since I don’t even USE one of those, I’d better check it out).

Don’t forget:  send photos of your table!

XO

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Week’s Give-Away: Creative Time and Space

No, sorry:  I cannot give you actual time and space. Wish I could! What I can do, though, is give you a copy of my book so that you can get some of it for your own self. How’s that?

New Book Cover  giant

What you need to do is to post a comment telling us this:

How much creative time do you have on an average day?

(Whining is allowed; you’re among friends here.)

And you know the rest:  you mustmustmust check back on Friday to see if you’ve won. If you DO win and you DON’T check back on Friday, I’m going to send that irritated cat

Cat

to your house. And you know that wouldn’t be any fun. . . .

So go! Post a comment already!

XO

Kelly Rae Roberts Podcast

Yay! After a long, long day, I’ve finally published the long-awaited podcast with Kelly Rae Roberts, one of the fabulous contributors to my book, Creative Time and Space and author of her own book, the best-selling Taking Flight.

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In just three years, she’s made a huge name for herself in the world of mixed media art, with a licensing agreement, a book deal, a wildly popular blog and frequently sold-out online shop. How has she accomplished all of this? Listen to her tell about it here.

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Visit Kelly’s website, blog, and online shop here.

Thanks so much, Kelly!

 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Brian Dettmer Eye Candy for Your Sunday

I corresponded briefly with Aaron Packer, of Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago, when I was writing about Dettmer for Somerset Studio (click that link to order a copy of the 2008 issue, and see one of the spreads here), so now I get periodic email notices of exhibits. There seems to be a new one at the gallery, although I can’t find the dates of a show—so maybe it’s a permanent exhibit—anyway: if you’re near Chicago, you must go and report back! (please!)

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dettmer’s work:  he takes old books, glues all the pages together, and then uses a scalpel to cut down through the pages to reveal the images inside. He doesn’t plan ahead of time, and he adds nothing—there’re no glued-in collage-y bits. Just what was in the book to start with. Amazing, amazing stuff.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Reading List

In photo form:

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This is all work-related reading of one sort or another. You can see that I still haven’t tackled the big, honkin’-ass Missing Manuals. Lordy, those babies are thick! And then the three podcasting books that came yesterday and today. I’ll probably want to get something else there, but this was a place to start—I ordered these on the iPhone while standing in the local Barnes and Noble, showing the person there how it worked because they could not locate a single book about podcasting in the entire store. Not one.

Right now I’m reading this:

book 1

So far I’m loving it. It starts out telling about the Creation Museum, where there’s an exhibit of dinosaurs wearing saddles. Because, you know, the bible says that man was given dominion over all the animals, and the earth is only 6000 years old. Ergo:  saddled dinosaurs. And just let me tell you:  if they’d had this when I was a kid, I would have been nagging my parents ENDLESSLY to take me, never mind that my parents were the most marginally religious of ex-Baptists you can imagine and would have cut me off before I even started to beg and whine. Still: I was all over dinosaurs—I had a collection of the little plastic ones that came in the boxes of miniature bags of Fritos!—and would have hitchhiked to Kentucky all by myself, lugging my little pink zippered suitcase, to see a ride-able triceratops. Boy, howdy~~

I have to read a book like this every so often just to reassure myself that somewhere out there, somewhere beyond Midland, Home of the Little Prong on the Buckle on the Bible Belt, past the state of Texas, where Governor Goodhair yesterday declared that the federal government is “punishing” Texas (for having spawned George W., I guess; although, as I always remind people:  he’s not really FROM here, OK?) and warned the populace that we’re on a slippery slide into socialism, that old bugaboo of the wingnuts—there are people who do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, nor in The Rapture, nor in any other illogical explanation of the origins of the universe but who believe, instead, in things like evolution (not a popular topic here, let me tell you) and social progress and logic and, well, you know:  science and stuff.

And this:

book 2

I’m working my way through these, year by year, but because I have no science background, some of this stuff is so amazing to me—stuff like the The Great Garbage Patch--that it makes me have to put the book down and just marvel.

[Do you really believe they found water on the moon? I’m such a skeptic:  I’m thinking they’re just saying that to get more money for space exploration so they can find some other real estate to exploit when our uncontrolled population finally eats up every last bit of space on this current planet. Either we kill off a bunch of people somewhere with some arable land (but of course we’re too busy killing off people sitting on top of oil reserves to bother with that), or we find some other planet to pillage. But that’s just me. I’m sure they found water. Good, tasty water. And good soil. Probably also chickens and some pork, is what I’m thinking. Throw in a mall with some Nascar souvenir shop and we’ll be all over the first shuttle. Idiot America, indeed.]

And this:

book 3

Because lord knows I need all the help I can get, what with my Bag Thang (which I hope I’m over, thankyoujesus).

I recently read this:

book 4

I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and so bought this one, full-price, in hardback. It was OK. I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t wowed, either. I had some problems with character development—the reasons for their actions weren’t ever clear to me. The twins—gack. What can I say? The whole thing was weird:  they are 21 but act like 14 year olds. And I don’t know much about identical twins, but would two sisters sleep entwined in each others’ arms every night, all their lives? Really? What’s that all about? And what’s not being said here? Because I think Niffennegger (and that’s a name I’m always REALLY careful to enunciate, let me tell you) seems to have this Thang about intimating something:  remember in TTTW when the father walks in on the protagonist and himself as teenagers? What’s up with the appeal of auto-erotica with an identical self? I don’t know about her (well, it seems I know more than I care to, frankly), but having sex with someone exactly like me has NO appeal at all. Holy crap! The very idea of the EXISTENCE of someone exactly like me makes me break out in hives, frankly. It’s one reason I didn’t reproduce: I always figured you needed a really strong ego to want to make copies of yourself, and the idea of More Me’s is just really taxing in a really big way. So forget even thinking about bringing SEX into it. Goodlordalmighty.

Where was I? And why can I not do even a simple little book list without getting all sidetracked? Sheesh.

and this:

book 5

This is typical Berg. I love the way she writes and have read, I think, everything she’s published. Maybe not. But I think so. I like the way she uses language. I do NOT like the women in her novels. Good grief, but they irritate me. I do not like insecure, indecisive, needy women in real life, so there’s no way I’m going to like them in fiction, either. This one reminded me of someone I know and like, and I STILL wanted to slap her and say, “Wake the fuck up!”

Still, if you like Berg, you’ll like this. Just like her others. She puts lines in there that make me grin. And the daughter in this book, when she says, in exasperation, “Mom. Mom. Mom.,” trying to get her mother’s attention to remind her of something they’ve discussed a million times. I can HEAR that, and I can still hear it, and it’s brilliant:  it tells me more about their relationship—loving but typically difficult--than someone else could tell me in 10 pages.

and this:

book 6 

Oh, I love Wexler. I can’t remember his religious background—seems he went to Catholic school and converted to Judaism and then became atheist, but I could be way wrong. Here’s his bio:

I am currently a professor of law at Boston University, where I've taught law and religion, among other things, since 2001.  In the spring of 2008, I taught in Europe, first at Lyon 3 in France and then on a Fulbright grant at the Jagiellonian University in the amazing city of Krakow, Poland.  Before starting at Boston University, I worked at the Department of Justice in the Office of Legal Counsel for two years.  Prior to that I clerked for Justice Ginsburg at the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge David Tatel at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  I have a JD from Stanford Law School; an MA in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago Divinity School; and a BA in East Asian Studies from Harvard.

And then beside that he has a photo of himself wearing a clown nose.

And then he writes about religion. It’s another of my There’s Life Outside Midland books. I had a line about the Amish that I wanted to give you, but I don’t remember where I put it.

OK. So that’s my recent/current reading. I was going to tell you more, but it’s 1 am, and that’s past the bedtime of someone who wakes up every morning at 7 am and doesn’t really sleep all that soundly in the interim. We went to dinner with friends and then went out dancing, so my body is all messed up, going, “Hey, let’s go for a walk! Let’s have some coffee! Wanna go to the mall? Come on!” Like that. She wears me out. I’m like, “Aren’t you tired already? You’re old. It’s late. You’ve got shit to do tomorrow.” She’s like, “I think there’s an after-hours club in Odessa. Let’s go see!”

I’m going to bed before I have to kill her.